The City of Seattle is considering broadening its law that protects renters with Section 8 voucher subsidies from discrimination by landlords over the source of their income. Solid Ground Tenant Counselor Chea Berra recently represented the experience of callers to our Tenant Hotline in testimony to the Seattle City Council that called for expanding protections to include short-term rental assistance.
Berra told the Council about receiving calls from tenants who are getting 3-day notices to pay or vacate. Even when they secure funding commitments to help from mainline organizations such as Salvation Army and St. Vincent de Paul, the landlords did not accept the pledges, apparently because they were not cash or personal checks. Here is her testimony.
“My name is Chea Berra. I am a Tenant Counselor, here on behalf of Solid Ground. We believe that antidiscrimination protections based on a renters’ use of a subsidy or alternative sources of income are vital to our clients.
“Solid Ground works with thousands of renters who receive income from a broad range of sources including Social Security, Disability, unemployment and TANF. Many are Section 8 voucher holders.
“What is not addressed in the proposed ordinance is a situation that I see often with our clients — many times, these people who are living sometimes on less than $500 a month get behind in rent — temporary, sporadic situations where they come up short. They have a medical emergency, or they’re waiting for their unemployment or disability checks to start, or their VA benefit or HEN payment is suspended for some reason. They reach out to organizations like St. Vincent de Paul or Salvation Army or some other community resource, and the organization pledges money toward what they owe in rent — and for a moment they feel they can breathe again.
“But the pledges are in form of a letter and their landlords refuse to accept the pledge letters — pledges that the money is on its way. They refuse to give cash value to the pledges. Although these pledges are verifiable alternative sources of income from reputable community organizations, landlords refuse to accept this form of financial assistance to supplement our clients’ rents.
“So, our clients get the breath sucked out of them again, as the landlord proceeds with the evictions.
“People can’t use what resources are available to them. So not only is their ability to maintain housing challenged at that moment — a moment when there are resources out there — but now individuals and families have another great barrier to getting future housing because they will have this eviction on their record. And in many cases, it can even mean the loss of their Section 8 voucher.
“Under the ordinance, this would continue to be an opportunity for landlords to discriminate against people who receive this alternative form of income — because it’s easy for landlords to simply say it is not cash.
“Although no one is explicitly denying the source of income, by not giving cash value to those pledges, they are circumventing the purpose of this ordinance — the ability for people to freely use available financial assistance.
“Financial assistance and subsidy programs were established to protect the elderly and the disabled from financial hardship and homelessness — keep families together, and give children the chance to grow up healthy and secure.
“Without additional and strengthened protections against Alternative Source of Income Discrimination, it won’t happen.”